Vladimir Mayakovsky Biography


(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: Mayakovsky was the poet laureate of the Russian Revolution. Celebrating the modern technological age, he became the voice of the masses. Combining propaganda and innovative poetic techniques, he created sweeping epics, mass spectacles, and dramatic slogans that brought a vibrant literature to the people in the streets.

Early Life

Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky, born in Bagdadi, Georgia, was an unpromising student who became involved in revolutionary activities early in his life. When his family moved to Moscow, the young Mayakovsky became fascinated with the spectacle of the 1905 Revolution. At the age of fourteen, he joined the Bolshevik Party and was arrested for revolutionary activities. In prison, he started to write poetry and to learn the power of literature. Mayakovsky eventually rechanneled his revolutionary zeal in the direction of creating socialist art and enrolled in the Moscow Institute of Painting, Sculpture, and Art, where he was introduced to modern art by David Burlyuk, an expressionist turned cubist. He also joined the Futurist movement, whose principles he was to embrace for the rest of his life. Mayakovsky supported the Futurists in their call for a dynamic art that would separate itself from the literature of the romantic past and celebrate the urban landscape. Dressed in conspicuous outfits, Mayakovsky went on tour reciting his poetry and giving lectures on art. These performances provided excellent training for his future role as an artistic ambassador for the Soviet Union. In his early poetry, he experimented with unmelodious sounds, distorted syntax, unusual words, bizarre figures of speech, and hyperbolic images. In 1913, he wrote, directed, and acted in his first drama, Vladimir Mayakovsky (1913; English translation, 1968). The play is a monodrama in which there is essentially only one character—Mayakovsky, the suffering poet; all the other characters are dreamlike reflections of various elements of his ego. A plotless series of long interior monologues written in fractured verse, this early drama introduced some of the themes and techniques that he would develop in his later works. It calls for the destruction of past cultures, concentrates on images of urban technology, presents a future-oriented vision, introduces the themes of martyrdom and suicide, and hints at a revolution to come.

In 1913, Mayakovsky also became associated with the literary theorist Osip Brik and fell in love with Osip’s wife Lili. The Briks aided him in his career as a Futurist poet, and his love for Lili inspired many of his poems. In fact, she inspired his first epic poem, Oblako v shtanakh (1915; A Cloud in Pants). In this poem, the poet starts with an incident of rejected love and builds to scenes of crucifixion and martyrdom. In “Chelovek” (“Man”), published in 1916, Mayakovsky explores cosmic themes in the form of a parody of the life of an orthodox saint. This poem paved the way for the cosmic sweep of his later poetry. Mayakovsky was already a poet with a mission, and the Russian Revolution gave him a platform from which to convey his message.

Life’s Work

Mayakovsky was a poet of the Revolution. From propaganda slogans to epic poems, from poetry readings to mass spectacles, Mayakovsky was imbued with the ideas of the Revolution. He even called it “my Revolution.” During the Revolution, he joined in the Futurists’ program to take art into the streets and to bring it directly to the masses. Between 1918 and 1921, he created poster art with poetic captions.

In order to reach the people more effectively, he turned to theater. On November 7, 1918, in collabration with the avant-garde director Vsevolod Meyerhold, Mayakovsky commemorated the first anniversary of the Revolution with his second play Misteriya-buff (1918; Mystery-Bouffe, 1933). In this play, he parodies a medieval mystery cycle. In true propaganda style, Mayakovsky caricatures the enemies of Communism: the greedy capitalist, the compromising Mensheviks, the inactive intellectuals, and the Soviet merchants. Along with Meyerhold, Mayakovsky helped to transform the stage from a two-dimensional, photographic representation of reality into a constructivist circus.

During this period, Mayakovsky continued to create moving epic poetry. In 150,000,000 (1920; English translation, 1949), Mayakovsky pits the giant Ivan, a symbol for 150,000,000 cold, hungry, desperate Russians, against the grotesque capitalist warrior, Woodrow Wilson, who sinks to the bottom of the sea. In Pro eto (1923; About That, 1965), he transforms a story of rejected love into an agon on his martyrdom and his resurrection in a futuristic world. This love poem shows his ability to elevate personal tragedy to the level of the messianic. In his greatest epic, Vladimir Illich Lenin (1924; English translation, 1939), he mixes comic and...

(The entire section is 2037 words.)

Vladimir Mayakovsky Biography

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Of an independent and rebellious nature, the youthful Mayakovsky joined the Bolshevik Party in 1908 and was arrested several times as a result. He spent nearly one year in prison. He also embarked on a writing career, associating himself briefly with the Futurist School. His first poems were published in 1912. He enthusiastically supported the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, and later assisted in preparing textual and visual party propaganda during Russian’s civil war. In 1923 he helped found LEF (“Left Front”), a circle of like-minded writers organized to promote literary and cultural experimentation.

Although much of his output is considered propagandistic and didactic, serving the communist cause, Mayakovsky nonetheless also is recognized for the freshness of his literary imagery. His poetry is stark and challenging, confronting readers with the dramatic forces of change, energy, and movement. Metaphors represent the “leap” of modern society and civilization into the future, leaving behind a tired and anachronistic past. His lengthy poem 150,000,000 (1919-1920) speaks for the aspirations of the Russian people as they emerge from their backwardness. Although political in its purpose, his literary skill is evident. His verse is irregular in meter, deliberately uneven, so as to create a jarring mood. His poetry, to be effective rather than tendentious and posturing, is especially dramatic when read aloud with fervor and varied...

(The entire section is 428 words.)

Vladimir Mayakovsky Biography

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky, born in Bagdadi, Georgia, Russian Empire, was an unpromising student who early in his life became involved in revolutionary activities. In 1905, a year of upheaval in Russian politics, Mayakovsky joined a Marxist society at his school and later became a propaganda worker for the Bolsheviks. Even after being expelled from school and arrested, Mayakovsky, a fervent revolutionary, persisted in underground activities and was imprisoned three times before he was fifteen years old.

By 1910, however, Mayakovsky had rechanneled his revolutionary zeal in the direction of creating socialist art. He soon enrolled in the Moscow College of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, where he was introduced to modern art by David Burlyuk, an expressionist turned cubist. Turning to poetry, Mayakovsky joined the Russian Futurists, who wanted to revolutionize poetry by advocating a total disregard for the poetic and linguistic conventions of the past. In 1913, Mayakovsky wrote, directed, and acted in his first drama, Vladimir Mayakovsky, performed at the Luna-Park Theatre in St. Petersburg on December 2. Despite exorbitant ticket prices, the show played to packed houses, and onstage, Mayakovsky outshouted the boos from the audience. Having launched his career as a dramatist, Mayakovsky toured Russia as a poet-performer and lecturer.

Then came the turning point in Mayakovsky’s life—the Russian Revolution. The Russian literary...

(The entire section is 604 words.)

Vladimir Mayakovsky Biography

(World Poets and Poetry)

Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky was born on July 19, 1893, in Bagdadi (a small town that was later renamed after him), where his father was a forester. From his early childhood, he showed himself to be independent and strong-willed. Although he was not a very good student, he possessed a remarkable memory for facts and long passages from poetry and other books. His childhood and early youth passed amid social unrest and rebellions. Because his entire family leaned toward the revolutionaries, Mayakovsky, too, participated in workers’ demonstrations, giving his father’s guns to the rebels, reading Socialist literature, and preparing himself for a lifelong revolutionary activism.

In 1906, after the death of...

(The entire section is 705 words.)

Vladimir Mayakovsky Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)
ph_0111228258-Mayakovsky.jpg Vladimir Mayakovsky Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Vladimir Mayakovsky (mah-yuh-KAWF-skee) was born on July 19, 1893, in the small village of Bagdadi in the province of Georgia, then a part of the Russian empire. His father was a Cossack and a forest ranger, and his mother, Alexandria Alexeyevna, was a Ukranian. The family moved to Kutayis in 1901, so that Vladimir might attend school there. Vladimir showed early political leanings, supporting the Bolsheviks; he took part in demonstrations against repressive actions by the czarist government. As a result of the demonstrations, his school was closed in October, 1905.

In February, 1906, the poet’s father died, and the family moved to Moscow. Mayakovsky enrolled in Moscow High School and soon after became a member of...

(The entire section is 889 words.)

Vladimir Mayakovsky Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Vladimir Mayakovsky was an innovative poet who used many modernist styles and structures in poems that startled his early twentieth century audience. He persisted in writing a personal and erotic poetry at a time when poems in praise of the Soviet state were the only ones to receive official recognition. Unable to resolve the conflicts inherent in his life and work, he took his life. Stalin later rehabilitated Mayakovsky’s diminished reputation by stating that it was a crime not to honor Mayakovsky’s achievements. Such official recognition would not have made him happier. He has, instead, lived on in the hearts of the Russian people.

(The entire section is 106 words.)

Vladimir Mayakovsky Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Vladimir Mayakovsky (muh-yih-KAWF-skee) was born on July 19, 1893, in the village of Bagdadi in the Kutais province of Georgia. He was the third child and only son of an impoverished nobleman who held the post of forest ranger in the Caucasus. Although the Mayakovskys had lived in Georgia for several generations, they were Russians, and following the father’s death the family moved to Moscow in 1906.

School bored Mayakovsky. He had been enthusiastic for the Revolution of 1905, and at the age of twelve, he dropped out of school to devote all his time to revolutionary activities. In 1908 he joined the Bolshevik faction and spread underground propaganda. This early association with the Bolsheviks led to three arrests...

(The entire section is 499 words.)